Finally I got to see one of my most wanted birds: THE IVORY GULL

Yesterday, I drove 10.5 hours to see a stunning Ivory Gull in Polson, Montana. Let me back up. You probably remember my sob story back in 2017. I was in Nome and missed an Ivory Gull by literal minutes... As I was parking my car it flew away.... and did I mention a Ross's Gull was with it?!. Yep it was two lifers. It's still painful to talk about haha but if you want to read it, you can do so HERE.

Well part of that was rectified today when I saw this bird!. The minute I pulled up at the Blue Bay Campground at Flathead Lake I was mesmerized. The bird was on Flathead Reservation land owned by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai First Nations Peoples. This bird has been present from at least Jan 29th. It glowed so bright as it swam circles in front of me. Seeing it for the first time was something I won't soon forget. At the same moment I pulled up there was 2 birders from California with Ed Harper from the Montana Bird Records Committee getting out of their cars. All of us had smiles a mile wide. One of the gentlemen from California was just so happy I wanted to hug him and almost did but didn't want to weird him out! :). However, the joys he expressed verbally, about seeing this high Arctic Gull, were all the ones that I felt but couldn't adequately express. I was speechless and I didn't say too much. I slowly approached the gull with Ed as not to flush it. It was not stressed at all as it sat there and stared at us and began to preen. It was snowing heavily which made me think I was in my father's homeland of Norway for a minute. It then flew elegantly into the water and bathed a bit and flew around hunting for crayfish and came back to sit on the dock beside me.

I was in awe of this bird and just ignored the falling snow, how wet my camera was and the cold air. The only other birds I could see were two Common Goldeneye. My eyes were only on this bird that took my breath away. It was worth the very snowy drive through Idaho's Lookout Pass. This bird was worth every minute of my 10.5 hour drive to get here. Montana is one of my fave states. I used to go to Glacier National Park quite often when I lived in Lethbridge, AB so it was nice to be back. I loved seeing the gorgeous blue glacial waters again. I was actually going to University in AB when I missed the adult Ivory Gull that many BC birders got in 2007 in Abbotsford. Therefore, it was so nice to finally connect with this immature bird here in the state of Montana. These birds are rarely found south of Alaska in the West so this is highly unusual to be in inland Montana!. It is of course the firsts state record for Montana!. A few of my friends have gone for this bird like Blair in WA and Hardy from Cranbrook. It is so nice it has stayed so long to bring joy to so many. 

As everyone else left, and I 
was suddenly completely alone, standing eye to eye with this rapidly declining bird, I shed a little tear of happiness. I am not sure I have been so moved by a new bird before.

There has been an 80% population decline since the 1980's in the Canadian breeding population and similar declines are noted in Norway and Greenland. The birds are declining due to climate change due to the lack of pack sea ice and the amount of toxic contaminants now present in their food. The outlook looks bleak for this already very rare gull.

With their ever-increasing troubling predicament; being privileged to be so close to one, made it a magical moment, I won't EVER forget.  I learned that the bird was not seen the day after so I was extremely lucky. It did have lice around its eye so I hope it didn't die from anemia but it sure looked healthy to me.

This was a lifer and ABA Continental bird #716 for me.

Now for that Ross's Gull....

A rare first-winter Ivory Gull graces me with its presence in Montana - Photos: Melissa Hafting


  1. So fantastic that you finally saw the bird and had great photos!

    1. thank you so much since he left the day after i went i sure feel extra lucky!


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